PITTSBURGH — The question trailed off, and Josh Ho-Sang knew where it was going.
The Islanders rookie was asked how it might feel Friday night when he takes the ice here for warmups before a crowd of Penguins fans who might view him, wearing their beloved No. 66, as . . .
“Public enemy No. 1?” he said with a mischievous smile.
“For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.
“I think it’s everyone outside of Pittsburgh that should kind of get over it. But if they want to hate me for my career, they’re welcome to. I have no bad blood with them; they can have whatever they want with me.”
Ho-Sang sounds as if he likes this villainous role. His plain-spoken attitude certainly got him noticed as a junior player in Canada, when the national team repeatedly declined to include him on its World Junior squad for what seemed like the all-encompassing “character issues.”
“I think he loves it,” coach Doug Weight said. “I just think he thinks, ‘This is cool, they’re yelling at me.’ He’s confident, and I believe in his heart he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong. He just wants to play hockey.”
Ho-Sang certainly is aware of the bad blood between the Islanders and Penguins that dates to the various slights, real and perceived, on his team’s end from 2010-11 and how the Isles exacted some measure of revenge later that season with a brawl-filled game. There’s also the 2013 playoff series. Now Ho-Sang’s No. 66 uniform will add to the mix.
“I definitely don’t think I’m helping it,” he said of the rivalry. “I can’t afford to think about that stuff. I’m sure when I get on the ice for warmups, it’s not going to be a Ho-Sang- friendly environment.
“For me, there’s so much more going on right now despite what they want to do, say. We’re trying to make the playoffs. That’s the biggest thing for me. If I can be a little bit of a distraction, take the heat off the guys in that area, just be able to play, get two big points and get out of there.
“That’s the plan.”